Trump administration’s challenge to vaquita-related ban on Mexican seafood imports rejected

Published on
November 29, 2018

A Trump administration challenge to a three-month-old ban on the import of Mexican shrimp and other seafood caught by gillnet in the Upper Gulf of California was rejected by a federal court on 28 November.

Implemented under protections bestowed on the critically endangered vaquita porpoise by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the seafood import ban has now been challenged unsuccessfully three times by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

In the most recent ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit confirmed a preliminary order implementing a federal law that requires a ban on seafood imported from Mexico’s Upper Gulf of California due to the danger gillnet fishing creates for the vaquita.

Just 15 individual vaquita remain, all living in the Upper Gulf of California, where they face extinction caused by entanglement in fishing nets. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that gillnets kill about 50 percent of the rapidly dwindling vaquita population every year.

“The federal agencies charged with protecting the vaquita should focus their resources on saving the last of these animals, rather than continuing to lose in the courtroom,” NRDC staff attorney Giulia Good Stefani said in a press release. “Immediate pressure on Mexico to ban all gillnets in the upper gulf and to clear the area of illegal nets is necessary now for the vaquita’s survival.”

Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Mexico has failed to permanently ban all gillnets in the vaquita’s habitat, despite recommendations by scientists.

“This victory helps U.S. consumers fight the vaquita’s extinction,” Uhlemann said. “The seafood embargo will force Mexico to finally remove dangerous gillnets and save these graceful porpoises before it’s too late.”

Despite the existential threat facing the vaquita, the U.S. departments of Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security, which are collectively responsible for implementing the import ban, have each tried and failed to remove or modify the import ban, according to DJ Schubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute.

“The U.S. government is wasting its time and facilitating the extinction of the vaquita by continuing its efforts to reverse the court’s order,” Schubert said. “It’s time for the U.S. government to accept the opinion, ensure full implementation of the ban and continue to work with the government of Mexico to save the vaquita.” 

Photo courtesy of NOAA/Paul Olsen

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?